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Human Rights Violations in the American Workplace Exposed
A worker is fired or discriminated against every 23 minutes for union activity, says group on Int'l Human Rights Day

December 8, 2004

Kimberly Freeman
202-822-2127, ext. 111
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WASHINGTON, DC—American Rights at Work, a new workers’ rights advocacy organization led by former Congressman David Bonior, announced that a worker in the United States is fired or discriminated against every 23 minutes for exercising his freedom of association on the job. “Workers are under attack and most Americans don’t even know it,” says Bonior. “Protecting workers’ rights to form unions is U.S. law, and a human rights standard that our country helped create.”

In observance of International Human Rights Day this December 10th, the group will unveil a ticker on its website (www.americanrightsatwork.org) that counts, in real time, the number of workers fired or discriminated against for union activity this year. International Human Rights Day commemorates the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signed and ratified by the U.S. in 1948, the treaty states, “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prohibits employers from intimidating, coercing, or firing employees for organizing. But many companies defy the law. More than half of employers faced with organizing campaigns threaten to close down worksites if employees choose union representation.  More than a third of employers give bribes or special favors to those who oppose the union. A quarter of employers fire pro-union employees during organizing campaigns. 

Through its Workers’ Rights Clearinghouse, American Rights at Work has collected hundreds of cases from across the country illustrating rampant violations of U.S. labor law and international human rights standards.  For example, Verna Bader , a 72-year-old grandmother, was fired in 1992 for attempting to form a union to address unsafe working conditions at a machinery plant in Taylor, MI. She worked on a machine with exposed wires that threatened to electrocute her.  Maria Guadalupe Garcia, a nursing home worker from Los Angeles, was held captive in an elevator mid-floor with a supervisor until she agreed to sign a petition to do away with the union. “Democracy shouldn’t end when you enter your workplace.” Asks Bonior, “When the person who signs your paycheck says, ‘don’t join the union,’ do you really have a fair choice, free of intimidation?”

Despite the prevalence of employer retaliation against pro-union employees, the federal agency charged with enforcing labor law recently has issued decisions that dramatically reverse and erode workers’ legal protections. Last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), whose members are appointed by the President, reversed a long-standing precedent and made it easier for employers to get away with threats to close a facility if employees unionize . Other recent decisions strip disabled workers and graduate teaching assistants  of protection under the NLRA and prohibit communication between workers expressing displeasure over working conditions.

“This is not the face America wants to show the world in the 21st century,” says Bonior. “Workers rights are human rights. We can’t forget this principle here at home.”

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:  Visit www.americanrightsatwork.org to view the ticker, or to access new resources, fact sheets and materials in connection with International Human Rights Day.

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